Finally! A decision that received national and international attention that did not come from the White House, Congress, the United Nations or even the European Union. Instead, it was an announcement made at a Boys and Girls Club in Connecticut.
Even before the statement was concluded, folks in Ohio, cried, cursed, booed and burned anything with the number 23 on it. Sportswriters, talking heads of sports and even political analysts dissected and criticized “The Decision.”
The announcement, of course, was that LeBron James had decided to accept an offer to play basketball for the Miami Heat, rather than remain with his previous team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, or even accept lucrative offers from other teams across the country.
The criticism covered a full gamut of silly statements and speculations about issues such as why James made this announcement on TV; why he chose the Boys and Girls stage; and why the ESPN moderator did not ask tougher questions.
But the real criticism questioned why James had not first talked to Cleveland’s fans or team owner Dan Gilbert or the governor or the mayor or the state legislature or the city council or even the local dogcatcher—all of whom had been so loyal for the last seven years. This ignores that James had consulted many people in Cleveland, including his family, friends, fans and the owner. The critics also seem to have conveniently forgotten that LeBron brought in an estimated $150 million a year to the owner and city’s economy.
A chorus of negativity and personal attacks arose like a winter storm off the Great Lakes, except, of course, in South Florida where they are still shouting “hallelujahs,” dancing in the streets and seeking to buy season tickets to watch the Miami Heat.
Even that great sports authority, The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, joined the Wagnerian chorus of criticism. In her support of Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert, she called the announcement narcissistic. She felt the pain of Gilbert who was played by James, the same James who had enriched the billionaire owner by hundreds of millions over the past years. She declared James owed it to Cleveland to show some class to the coach and fans.
What coach? The coach of the Cavaliers is Byron Scott, who held that position for just one week before James’ announcement. Scott, who had never coached James, replaced Mike Brown, the previous coach who had been axed by Gilbert only days before even though he had taken the Cavaliers to the playoffs in all previous years. Yes, he was fired by the same Dan Gilbert who places such a high value on loyalty.
This is Gilbert who sought to keep James in Cleveland, then childishly accused James of quitting in the playoffs by not playing well enough for the team to advance. The reality is that while James averaged almost a triple double, many of his teammates played below par in the playoffs. Don’t blame James because Mo Williams, Dante West, Antawn Jamison, et al played below their season averages. If James were a quitter, why would Gilbert try so hard to keep him in Cleveland?
Even Kobe Bryant will admit you need some help to go all the way. And that is the heart of the matter.
James did something unique for a multimillionaire sports star. He understands that there must be more rewards for a super player in the NBA than just getting big paychecks. He wants to be part of a successful team, one that can win championships. James took less money than he could have earned elsewhere to better reach this goal.
He was impressed that Miami not only sought his services, but also re-signed super guard Dwayne Wade and convinced Chris Bosh to leave Toronto and join the Heat.
If Miami coach Pat Riley is successful, then he’ll build around this trinity and then look out, NBA!
Despite potentially higher pay elsewhere, it’s good to see players declare to billionaire owners and others that they are not gladiators who simply do your bidding. They have goals, values and desires.
Essentially, these three players, James, Wade and Bosh, made a statement that they are not just chattel property individually available to the highest bidder. They will pool their abilities to do what is best for them and for a team. They will act like free men who have a right to market their skills.
(William Gray, D-Pa., is the former majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives and former president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund.)
(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)